Gustav Carlson (almost) visits HSU

Get to know Gustav Carlson before he retires to Goat Island

If not for COVID-19, The Comics Studies Society’s 3rd Annual Conference would have gotten underway on the Henderson State University campus on August 5, and one of the plenary speakers would have been Arkansas’s own Gustav Carlson.

A panel from Backwood Folk

Gustav is known for his comics set in Arkansas. Backwood Folk is “a sort of sequel to the folktales that are long lost or never told” in which a man returns to his hometown of Po’Dunk, Arkansas and “has to deal with wide-array of haunts, monsters, and impossible things that he only remembered as ghost stories and campfire tales.” His best known work, Eve of the Ozarks, takes place in the same region, but in the 1820s when Paw Duncan and his rambunctious young daughter Eve are pretty much the only humans in a wilderness inhabited by all sorts of monsters and spirits. But none of these creatures deter Eve and her best friend, a huge, impossibly old goat named Hieronymus, from having adventures because, as Eve says, “I do dang’rus stuff all the time!”

You can sample Eve of the Ozarks here:

Cover of Eve of the Ozarks: Girl & Goat

Gustav’s latest comic, Tourist Unknown, ranges far afield from the natural state. As Gustav wrote in a post previewing the work – “Out of the Ozarks and onto the Universe.” Presenting the adventures of a young woman who does not know to which planet she might be transported next, or how long she will remain there, Gustav displays a prodigious imagination as he creates strange new cultures and bizarre settings.

You can sample Tourist Unknown here:

Tourist Unknown introduction

While, like most cartoonists, Gustav spends long hours hunched over his drawing board or drawing tablet, he still finds time to engage with his community.

For years Gustav has been drawing portraits at various events. In 2016, he began doing portraits as fundraisers for organizations such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Recently, he did an intense charity portrait drive (Over 170 different people and pets!) that raised $3,947 for various groups supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, most significantly, local protester bail funds. “It was a total blast,” Gustav says, “and also had a nice side effect of helping me draw more and more unique faces in my own comics work.”

Gustav notes that these portrait drives tend to be rather localized, and thus “it feels like you are drawing an entire community over the years. Which has a certain appeal to it. It builds a sense of kinship with your community.”

You can see the portraits here:

In 2019, Gustav was commissioned to create interactive iPad animations in which his character, The Curator, explicates seven key works in the “Men of Steel, Women of Wonder” exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He also served as the exhibition’s Featured Artisan, giving talks and workshops. This was a thought-provoking exhibition in which artists used variations on the iconic images of Superman and Wonder Woman “to explore national identity, American values, social politics, representation, and the concept of humanity.” You can learn more about the exhibition here:

Gustav is a proud son of Arkansas and gives back to the state in many ways, including the delightful elaborations of local lore in his comics.

This is Gustav’s official bio:

Born and raised on a goat farm on top a mountain in the Arkansas Ozarks, Gustav Carlson spent his days naming an increasing number of goats Gruff. Partially in fear of bridge trolls that run rampant in the hills, but mostly because it adequately described most the goats he knew. Since then the trolls have gone extinct, and the goats Gruff are in his past. To fill that constant void, he now draws comics. Eventually he plans to retire to Goat Island, a very real place.

And he swears it is mostly true.

The Comics Studies Society missed out on having a talented and engaging plenary speaker. The CSS and the HSU community did not get to hear from and interact with Gustav Carlson in person, but you can listen to one of his interviews here: